Winning the Affection of the Scaredy Cat
Your telephone rings.
A woman’s voice on the other end says, “I’m going away for a week, and I need someone to look after my cat. Is that the sort of thing you do?”
You answer, “Of course, I’m a professional Pet Sitter. Cats are my specialty.”
The caller continues, “There’s not much you’ll need to do, just empty the litter box and give my cat fresh food and water. He’s a scaredy cat who runs from strangers, so you’ll probably never see him. I feel bad, because I hate for him to go a week without affection or attention.”
How would it feel to be able to say, “I have experience with scaredy cats and some definite ideas to soothe and calm them. I’d love the opportunity to meet your boy.” Your client already feels more comfortable.
Scaredy cats are driven by an internal fear that deprives them from easy socialization. But if you are able to disassemble the barrier that is actually their defensive protection, you may uncover a friendly cat who appreciates affection and attention.
Increase your chances of successfully socializing a scaredy cat by following these logical steps, some of which seem deceptively simple. When practiced patiently and accurately, you can generate profound results. Voice Massage and Brush Massage are magic tools for a Pet Sitter.
When you learn how to soothe a scaredy cat, you create an enhanced level of expertise. You will attract new business, and secure repeat business. People want Sitters who truly understand the special needs of their scaredy cats.
1. Setting Your Foundation & First Approach
A. Ask the Owner for Background Information
- An owner provides vital information. Ask your standard questions, and then tailor others to demonstrate a true interest and insight into the cat.
- What’s the reason behind the cat’s fear — is it past trauma or abuse?
- Is there a time of day when the cat is more receptive?
- Where are his likely hiding spaces? (Just so you know he’s safe.)
- Where are his “Safe Spots”? (where the cat is most comfortable and approachable.)
B. Accept that Fear is Genuine for the Cat
You may be tempted to talk your way in with the cat, saying, “Oh come on now, there’s nothing to worry about. I’m not going to hurt you; I’m here to feed you and play with you. Your people even asked me to come.” Forget it; you cannot ‘chat’ the fear out of a fear-dominated feline. This will frustrate you and further alienate the cat. Scaredy cats don’t hear logic, they feel fear.
C. Approach with Patience and Remain Patient
The initial approach between you and the cat sets the pace for future interactions. Remember, his familiar world has been disrupted, and until he knows differently, he senses you as a threat. So make your approach slow and gentle. Start by introducing yourself and calling the cat by name, with a low gentle tone.
Patience is defined as an ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay. There is no timetable with a scaredy cat. Winning over the cat is not a race; it’s a process. When you are patient, the cat will see you as safe.
You need to become safe and predictable in his suddenly unpredictable world.
D. Provide Rituals & Repetition
Cats are creatures of habit who find safety in rituals and repetition.
Create a ritual upon your arrival. For example, don’t just enter the house. The cat may expect its owners have returned, and be surprised, or more likely disappointed, to see you. Instead, ring the bell three times. This distinguishes you from neighbors who would ring the bell once. Remember Pavlov? The cat will identify the three bells with your arrival, a subtle way of establishing a ritual.
Upon entering the house, announce your arrival by calling out the cat’s name in a soothing gentle tone. Remember, in his newly unpredictable world, these two simple acts start to establish a predictable safe ritual.
Repetition builds familiarity and familiarity decreases fear. Follow the same routine each time you visit so your scaredy cat becomes familiar with you and your actions.
Interaction: your interaction starts from the time you enter the house.
A. Voice Massage
Your voice has a major impact on a scaredy cat. Just like with a human baby, a gentle voice is soothing and calming. Pay particular attention to the tone and pitch of your voice. It doesn’t matter if you have an operatic voice or can’t carry a tune; the cat responds to your soothing tone.
Well-intentioned people often approach cats and human babies and say something like ‘Oh you’re such a good wittle baby!’ ‘Ooooh, you are so bootiful.” “I want to kiss you all over — oooh.” They’re simply not aware that a high-pitched voice may be threatening.
Ask an honest friend for a voice check. Your feelings may be initially hurt, but your purpose is to develop a soothing tone. Scaredy cats and human babies will respond favorably to the improvement in your voice, and your hurt feelings will long be forgotten.
Next, create a little song or phrase and repeat it often. It might be something as simple as, “Oh you good boy, Tiger.” “Yes, you’re a good boy, Tiger.” Remember to repeat the cat’s name. Just like humans like to hear their name spoken, cats also respond to familiarity.
Or you may create a song, nothing fancy, and repeat it frequently. For example, “Oh Minka, I thinka, that I love you so, with your orange fur and your big white feet and your little pink nose.” Create your own simple little song and sing it at each visit. While he may not understand the words, the cat will become accustomed to the familiarity and rhythm of your voice.
B. “Safe Spots” vs. Hiding Places
A hiding place is where a cat retreats to get away and not be found. A “Safe Spot” is a familiar place where cat feels comfortable and is most approachable. Discovering and utilizing your scaredy cat’s “Safe Spot” will provide the greatest advantage for initiating bonding.
Tiger Bomm, a declaw found on the streets of Salt Lake City in the middle of winter, is a true scaredy cat. Even after three years together, Tiger is more approachable in his “Safe Spots” — on the couch, curled up on a chair hidden behind a desk, or on the bed.
Sit at the same level or below the cat to encourage a sense of equality. Having the cat slightly above you — you’re on the floor, the cat on the couch — is even better.
3. Brush Massage
Brush Massage is stroking and caressing a cat with a brush instead of your hand.
A brush allows you to make a connection without hand contact. Use a long handled bath brush, available at Bed Bath and Beyond and many stores for about $6. The brush offers a texture different from your hands, it can be a reminder of Mom’s raspy tongue, and most important, it puts distance between your hand and cat. The cat enjoys the brush, you’re connected with the brush, and you become likeable. Please don’t underestimate Brush Massage; it generates amazing responses.
To this day, Tiger will purr faster with a brush than with a hand.
A. “Check Out My Cheeks”
Position your brush near the cat’s head, and allow him a chance to sniff and accept the scent of a new item. Slowly brush from the base of the whiskers back to the cheek area. Notice the cat’s response, and hopefully his interest. Repeat the caress a few times for familiarity. Next, slowly caress around the cheek area, being careful to not rub the whiskers backwards. Keep your motions slow and consistent, and follow your cat’s response; he will guide you in what he likes. Adjust to his movements, and he may even rub against the brush in appreciation.
Scent glands are located in the cat’s cheeks. They will often rub their cheeks against an item or person to ‘mark’ their territory. Consider it a sign of progress.
B. “Chin Ups”
After caressing the cheeks, and work your way under the chin. This is a major area that often gets neglected, because some people are afraid the cat will bite their fingers. Position your brush under cat’s chin, and slowly rub from the tip of the chin back along to the throat. Be careful not to put any pressure on the throat area, of course. You’ll recognize friendly feedback when they crane their heads up in appreciation.
Next, rub along each side of his jawline from the chin back to his cheeks.
Resist the temptation to rub all over the body, especially all over the top of the head. It can still be too threatening.
Focusing on the cheek and chin area is the best way to develop bonding.
It’s a human tendency to want to do more; it’s a cat’s tendency to enjoy the basics.
Concentrate on gentle slow touching under the chin and around the cheeks. This way, Cat’s head and sensory centers — eyes, ears, nose, brain, and whiskers — are on top of the action. Also, he can see your hand, and by knowing where the touch is coming from, they feel more in control.
D. “Breast Stroking”
If the cat is cooperative, brush his chest fur in a downward motion and caress his entire chest area. Rub up and down, or create a few circles, and always remember to keep your speed slow.
E. “Shoulder Strumming”
Stroke up and down along the shoulder area with the brush. Follow your cat’s guidance. Let the cat rub against the brush right out to the shoulder.
Always keep your motions slow. Sometimes the cat will simply enjoy resting his head upon the brush; other times, he may rub back against the brush in delight. Even you may be surprised as your scaredy cat warms up.
Finally, imagine snapping a picture of this contented scaredy cat being brushed by you. Send it to the owner who predicted you’d never even see the cat. What a hero you’d be! You’ll generate repeat business, and best of all, you’ll have a scaredy cat who trusts you.
What an accomplishment!
Download a PDF version of Cat Sitting Secrets.
Used with permission from MaryJean Ballner, catmassage.com